I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember: a professing disciple of Jesus Christ falling away from the faith. It’s painful to behold. The pain is compounded a hundred-fold when it’s a loved one – child, spouse, or parent. I’ve witnessed it over the past year. I’ve watched several promising young men openly renounce the faith. They went quietly, not combatively… silently, not angrily… softly, not harshly… as they would probably say “lovingly, not hatefully.”
But none of this alleviates the pain. And, as always, it leaves me wondering how this is possible.
It’s possible, because no-one is saved by association. It’s a wonderful thing to come under the means of grace – the preaching of the Word, in particular. But this external holiness doesn’t guarantee internal holiness. You see, it’s possible to be in a position of external privilege without ever experiencing inward change. To put it in slightly different terms, it’s possible to associate with the people of God without ever fellowshipping with the Son of God.
When this is the case, one of two things happens. Either the individual finds a church which won’t make him feel uncomfortable, or he abandons the church altogether.
This process of falling away is traceable from start to finish. In other words, we can identify the signs. (I’m indebted to John Bunyan for these.)
1. To begin with, the individual refuses to think about God, sin, death, and judgment.
2. Then, he begins to neglect private duties such as praying, meditating, watching, and curbing desires.
3. Then, he shuns the company of warm and lively Christians.
4. Then, he begins to neglect public duties such as hearing and reading God’s Word.
5. Then, he becomes critical of Christians. His goal is to bring the faith into disrepute, in order to justify his rejection of it.
6. Then, he begins to associate with carnal people. He finds support for his views among them.
7. Then, he gives way to self-righteousness. He delights to see anything in Christians that he can criticize.
8. Then, he begins to play with little sins openly.
9. Then, he declares himself to be what he really is – hardened.
And, unless a miracle of grace prevents it, he perishes forever in his own self-deception.
Oh, pray for a miracle of grace!!! And may we have the love and courage to plead with the perishing.